British Library lawyer urges tough sentence for thief of rare maps

British Library lawyer urges tough sentence for thief of rare maps


16 September 2006 – Smiley, a 50-year-old U.S. dealer in rare maps and known for his impeccable blazers and scholarly demeanour, pleaded guilty in a U.S. federal court this year to stealing 97 rare maps, worth £1.6 million, including the Apian from the British Library, and maps from leading U.S. institutions.

He had been armed only with a razor blade. Now the British Library wants U.S. authorities to throw the book at Smiley, saying he stole three other maps, worth £47,000, from the library and that by razoring the rare 1520 Apian map from a volume owned by Thomas Cranmer – the 16th century Archbishop of Canterbury – he was guilty of “ripping at the heart” of a public institution.

The world map, drawn by 16th century German cartographer Peter Apian and one of the first to show America as a separate continent, could not survive the visit of map thief Edward Forbes Smiley III to the British Library in June 2004.

Ahead of Smiley’s sentencing on September 27, Robert Goldman, a lawyer retained by the British Library, has called for the dealer to be imprisoned for up to eight years — two to three more years than called for by U.S. sentencing guidelines.

“The maps stolen by Smiley created the dreams of the explorer, merchant, and powerful,” Mr. Goldman wrote. “They brought inspiration of a new land to the oppressed and the persecuted. They charted the paths of national expansion and empire building … the harm caused by Smiley transcends monetary loss.” His demand is prompted by the library’s suspicion that Smiley may be withholding information.

Smiley, from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, consulted about 33 albums at the British Library between June 2004 and March 2005, but cut maps from only four volumes. Only the Apian map has been found. A rare first edition of Sir William Alexander’s 1624 map of New England and Canada, and a 1578 map from George Best’s A True Discourse of the Late Voyages of Martin Frobisher, have turned up in the collections of a London dealer and U.S. collector, who bought the maps from Smiley.